Endless featuring N:Dless at The Drum, Theatre Royal Plymouth

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On Tuesday evening I was kindly invited to the press night of Endless featuring N:Dless, a brand new, documentary style piece of gig theatre about a fictional band who nearly rose to epic stardom, produced by Trifle Gathering Productions (a local Cornish company). I love supporting new writing in the South West, and it was great to visit The Drum for the first time in years – it definitely made me feel as though I was back at the Edinburgh Fringe!

The cast was comprised of four performers, each of whom contributed something unique to the overall performance, yet they also worked together brilliantly as a dysfunctional unit. Sally Crooks (manager and co-producer of Trifle Gathering Productions) portrayed Eggy, a youthful yet wise member of the group. I adored her enthusiasm and of course, those dungarees!! Mary Woodvine played the role of Sarey, a stunning Irish-woman with an incredible voice… and that accent was flawless. Dean Rehman was the angry and potentially misunderstood Malcom – the leader of the group (by his own description!). Dave was portrayed by the talented Joe Carey – potentially the most understated of the four band members, but in the most brilliant way. I very much enjoyed his forays into actor musicianship through his playing of both the saxophone and the didgeridoo! Not many shows can boast a didgeridoo, that’s for sure.

The show was split into two halves: the highs and the lows. Advertised as a music documentary for the stage, it begins with the four band members of N:Dless talking about themselves, their lives and the ups and downs of band life. I really liked the way that the audience learned about how the band came to life, and the time jumps between the past and present day were done very cleverly indeed, gradually piecing together a timeline of the band’s existence.

One element that I thought worked really well was the use of video on the back wall. The videos were often used to distract the audience during scene or costume changes, and it really did work! This further contributed to the documentary feel of the production, as we got to see interviews with the band’s supposed contemporaries such as Basement Jaxx and Chumbawamba (yes I did just have to Google that name – at times I felt a little too young to understand some of the 90s references!). The screen also worked well in informing the audience of time and location shifts, and the fact that a lot of the locations were local to the South West was a nice personal touch.

There were plenty of funny moments in the script (by Kyla Goodey and Sally Crooks), but it touched on several more serious themes too, including strained family relationships, mental health issues and terminal illness. I felt that Dave’s storyline towards the end was particularly moving, as the most easygoing and jokey band member suddenly had something terrible to deal with. The heated argument scenes between Eggy and Malcolm were brilliantly written too, and I’m sure that every audience member could relate to at least one of the complex storylines included in the script.

As I mentioned earlier, the small venue felt so ‘fringey’ to me. There was a strong connection between the on stage characters and the audience, constantly breaking the fourth wall, particularly during the gig scenes. The performers ran up and down the aisle, high fived people in the audience, and even directed certain lyrics at individual people! I also enjoyed the exchange between Malcom and the sound guy at the back of the theatre, yet again making the whole experience seem a lot friendlier than larger scale theatre productions. It was a shame that the audience weren’t a bit more hyped up though – this particular Plymouth audience was rather quiet and tame! (Especially during the ‘I say ‘N’, you say ‘Dless” sequence which I found very funny and definitely joined in with!).

I really enjoyed watching this production which felt half way between a theatre show and a gig. As a musician myself it was fascinating watching the scenes where the band were working out new songs and chord progressions, and I definitely believed that they were a real band at times! I would certainly recommend this production to anyone with an interest in what goes on behind the scenes in a band’s life, but also to anyone who enjoys theatre (especially new writing!).

 

Endless featuring N:Dless runs at The Drum at Theatre Royal Plymouth until 4th May, before embarking on a tour of several South West venues. View tour dates here.

Disclaimer: I was invited to the press night of Endless featuring N:Dless but all views and opinions expressed here are my own.

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3. ‘PVA glue is my best friend’ – an inside look at creating costumes at TR2

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As part of the Theatre Royal Plymouth bloggers’ scheme, I was invited to the wardrobe department at TR2, the theatre’s production and learning centre. We were shown around by Delia, the head of wardrobe, and we got to learn all sorts of things about how, where and why costumes are made, how much it costs, and even how to create realistic looking sick on clothes!

We were welcomed into the wardrobe workshop space, which was full of dummies wearing costumes, which I definitely mistook for real people a few times! Delia showed us some costumes from a production of Rebecca, which was at Theatre Royal Plymouth a couple of years ago, and explained that the costume budgets on shows vary hugely – from around £500 for small, local productions, up to £250,000 for high profile tours of well known musicals. On expensive shows just one garment can cost £1000 to make, especially when fabrics have to be made and printed specifically for a particular character in a particular show. Delia also explained that to work in wardrobe you have to be an all rounder – while individuals have their specialisms, they all need to be prepared to do a bit of everything – including doing the laundry, and even acting as a stand in dresser for performances at the theatre.

Next we went to the costume store: an enormous room full of thousands of garments. While the aisles and rails look crammed full and impossible to trawl through, the room is impeccably organised to make it easy to find any particular piece of costume required. Delia told us that they often hire out costumes to other organisations in the wider community, and that some garments are reused many times in different shows. She described them as ‘treasures I can reuse’, which I thought was a lovely way of putting it, because many of the pieces I saw were so versatile, and definitely ‘treasures’.

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We returned to the wardrobe workshop and Delia showed us some techniques to create special effects on fabric (her own specialism). She emphasised the attention to detail – like when creating fake mud to make clothes look dirty, she has to consider where the production is set, because the colour of mud in Yorkshire, for example, is quite different from the colour of Cornish mud! She used a dirty down spray to customise a pristine white T shirt, and showed us how to create fake blood by using a different spray, and also showed us some fake sick which was… interesting! She told us how different textures can be created using different substances, and stated that ‘PVA glue is my best friend’ due to the sheer amount of things it can be used to make! It was also interesting to find out that experimentation is a key part of creating the correct colour or texture, and that a lot of the wardrobe team’s work is trial and error.

Finally, we got the chance to have a go at creating some fake embroidery. This involved creating a piping bag full of acrylic paint and tracing over a print – it was harder than it sounds! The trick is to create a really small hole for the paint to come out of to maximise the precision when tracing over the lines. Then we filled in the gaps with paint and a brush which was much easier… GCSE art seems a long time ago! It was a really interesting and surprisingly therapeutic task to do and it certainly made us all be quiet for a while!

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Despite knowing very little about the business beforehand, I loved learning so much about the wardrobe department and costume making at TR2. I never realised how much detail goes into the costumes you see on stage, and the size of the costume store was simply immense. I’d like to thank Delia for showing us around and for being so helpful – I have a newfound appreciation for all that the wardrobe team do, as well as a newfound appreciation for PVA glue.

Backstage tour: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time

6 Jun 8
Credit: Becca Pettit

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time is a unique piece of theatre which has been subject to great critical acclaim since it first opened at the Cottesloe Theatre in 2012. Now embarking on its second UK tour, audiences all over the country are being swept up in Christopher Boone’s story. I was invited on a backstage tour of the show at Theatre Royal Plymouth along with five other bloggers to learn more about the play and to get a closer look at the props and set. We were met by Stew, the company manager, who talked us through the different aspects of the show and opened our eyes to how much detail has gone into creating this production.

We started by looking at the towering set, and Stew explained that it takes 6 hours to get it into the theatre, and 12 hours to put it all together and make it function. We saw the versatile white boxes which are used in various ways throughout the show, as suitcases, train seats, and even a toilet! Then we moved on to looking at the props, starting with Wellington, the four legged victim of the story, and I was amazed at the gruesome detail that been applied to the dog, as well as the detail on other set pieces, such as the model of Big Ben and the tiny houses. Stew told us that ‘Curious is all about detail’, and I saw first-hand that this is certainly true.

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Then it was time to go on stage! The floor is covered in tiny squares (892 to be exact), and the floor and three walls are all covered in grids. Although the set may look simple at first, there are eight projectors used in the show which really enhance the visual aspect, and LED lights are used to inject different colours and moods into various scenes. The grid squares are labelled with letters and numbers around the sides, and Stew told us that the directors used these squares during the rehearsal process to help with the precision of the blocking – for example, an actor would be instructed to stand in box A7 for a certain scene. I found it really interesting that a show so based in logic and maths is blocked in such a mathematical way – and this must play a part in enhancing the performance. As Stew told us, ‘it’s all grid work’.

Understandably, there are many people working on Curious to ensure that it runs smoothly for all 8 performances a week. There are 10 cast members in the show, plus an alternate Christopher, and 4 understudies. There are two Christophers because it is such a demanding role – the actor portraying him never leaves the stage except during the interval. There are also 16 crew members, unusually outnumbering the cast number! These numbers prove how technical the show is, and how although it has a small cast size, it requires many people working hard backstage to make the show happen. Stew said that audiences often forget that Curious is a play, because it is so much more than a play – perhaps even a ‘play with the infrastructure of a musical’. Although the scale of the set is so big, the intense detail of the props means that the performance still feels intimate and relatable.

A primary aim of the show is to introduce the audience to Christopher’s world. Stew told us that this is why the set is effectively a box, because this box represents his mind. We also learned about the music for the show, which is all based around prime numbers – for example, at the start of the show a drum rhythm is heard, and the accents are on beats 2, 3, 5, 7 and 11 (the first prime numbers). This makes the audience subconsciously inhabit Christopher’s world because he adores maths, and prime numbers – so it makes sense that the background music would be based around them too. I find this incredibly clever, and again, it’s something that the audience would not pick up on, making it another example of the show’s attention to detail.

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The backstage tour gave me and the other bloggers an invaluable insight into the world of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time. The scale of the set and detail of the props is astounding, and it is clear that so much thought has been put into every tiny aspect of this production to make it unique and authentic. So many individuals work hard to make this show as good as it can possibly be, and I can’t wait for more audiences around the UK to experience this extraordinary piece of theatre.

 

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time runs at Theatre Royal Plymouth until Saturday 1st July.